Monday, April 26, 2010

Preview of upcoming dance & theatre May, 2010


14th Street Theatre
Friday, April 30 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, May 1 at 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 2 at 7 p.m.
Tickets: PlayhouseSquare Ticket Office, 216-241-6000 or
CHESS develops the game of chess into a metaphor for romantic rivalries and East-West political intrigue. With music by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus and lyrics by Tim Rice, the score includes "One Night in Bangkok " and "I Know Him So Well." The production features current students in the Baldwin-Wallace Music Theatre Program under the direction of Victoria Bussert,

The 2010 Season Line-up!
LI’L ABNER (July 9-24)
Note the new location: The Brooks Theatre in The Cleveland Play House, 8500 Euclid Ave
Subscriptions: $36 for adults and $30 for seniors (60+) and students
For reservations and more information call (216) 771-5862 or go to

Playhouse Square Center
Performances include:
Palace Theatre
Wednesday, May 5, 6:30PM
Corbian Visual Arts and Dance introduces us to Darwin, a dinosaur brought to life by the great Professor Henslow, who encourages Darwin to go and explore. In his explorations, Darwin encounters many different types of living creatures, learning the value of both good and bad, love and hate, friends and enemies. Features glow-in-the-dark creatures that light up the stage.
Recommended Ages: 6-13

FARFALLE (BUTTERFLIES)--Teatro Di Piazza D’Occassione ( Italy )
May 4-5 & 7-8

THE MAN WHO PLANTED TREES, Puppet State Theatre Company (Scotland )
May 7-8, 2010

THE DREAM JAM BAND ( USA ) May 7-8, 2010


The Pulitzer Prize winning comedy by Beth Henley, CRIMES OF THE HEART, examines the plight of three young Mississippi sisters betrayed by their passions.
Preview: Thursday, April 29. Opening Friday, April 30. The play will run Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00 PM and Sunday afternoons at 2:00 PM through May 16 at the theater in downtown Hudson.
Tickets: 330-342-0800

KeyBank Broadway Series
May 11-23, 2010
Tickets:, 216-241-6000 or at the Playhouse Square ticket office.
A rock n' roll celebration of growin' up, cruisin' with friends and goin' steady, the new production of GREASE™ features songs from the hit 1978 motion picture for the first time ever in a Broadway production including “Sandy,” “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” “Grease” and “You’re the One That I Want.” AMERICAN IDOL winner, Taylor Hicks, appears as the “Teen Angel.”
A special Teen Night will follow the May 14th evening performance. Teens (ages 14-19) are invited to a party featuring an appearance by members of the cast, a DJ and pizza. Call or go on-line for information.

Co-presented by Cuyahoga Community College and DANCECleveland, the internationally acclaimed Pilobolus Dance Theatre comes to the Palace Theatre in Playhouse Square for one performance on Saturday, May 8, at 8 p.m. Tickets starting at $10 can be purchased at 216-241-6000 or online at
Among the Pilobolus cast is Christopher Whitney, a graduate of Cleveland Heights High School. He began his dance training as an intern with Inlet Dance Theatre under the guidance of Bill Wade and joined Pilobolus in 2008.
For more information about the company, go to

Written by Charlotte Jones
Broken vows, failed hopes, quantum mechanics and the joys of beekeeping are interwoven as Felix comes to terms with the sudden death of his father, his overbearing mother and his onetime sweetheart.
Dobama Theatre
2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights, OH
May 7th - May 30th, 2010
For tickets go to or call 216-932-3396

Brecksville Theatre on the Square
Runs Friday, Saturday at 7:30 and Sunday at 2 through May 16
Staring Monica Olejko as Mamma Rose and Bridge Chebo as Gypsy
For info or tickets go to: 440-526-3443 or

Sunday, April 25, 2010


‘THINGS OF DRY HOURS’ makes for long sit at CPT

On the surface, ‘THINGS OF DRY HOURS,’ which is getting its area premiere at Cleveland Public Theatre, would appear to be an interesting play. It is billed as the seldom told story of black membership in the Communist Party in the Depression-era South and an exploration of the dangerous price of personal integrity.

The storyline centers on Tice Hogan, an African American out-of-work Sunday school teacher who spends time volunteering at a park being built for white children, where he spreads the word of the gospel of Communism. His daughter Cali takes in washing from the rich white people to help meet expenses. Their lives get turned upside down when they take-in Corbin Tell, a white factory worker, who tells them he has killed someone and is on the run.
It is a promising subject, but the writing by Naomi Wallace is so static and lifeless that the two-act play becomes tedious. It reads more like a well-researched doctoral dissertation than a play. There is no real action, even the conflicts are civil, never providing much depth of character interaction. And, the ending, which should have been a shocker, isn’t, due to the exposition format in which it is presented.

Unfortunately, the CPT production doesn’t help matters. Director Sarah May’s blocking is excellent and she has a grasp of the story, but can’t fight the writing and her cast’s problems. Larry Arrington-Bay (Tice) stumbled over lines, forgot some and mumbled through others. This slowed down the already turtle’s pace of the language and detracted from what, at times, was a clear characterization. Andrea Belser (Cali) stayed on the surface, never developing a depth of character. Her lines were often flat, emotionless, never revealing the seething passion and hurt within her. Only Curtis L. Young (Corbin) was animated and had the right edge to give the audience a clue that he wasn’t what he said he was.

Young’s set design was excellent. The fragmented house placed the material in its proper setting. His lighting design was also productive. Richard Ingraham’s foreboding music gave more tension than the script offered.

Be aware that the staging contains full male nudity.

Capsule judgement: Let’s hope that as the play runs, lines will be learned and characterizations more completely developed. It’s not going to help the bland writing, but, at least, it will make the sit shorter.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Intriguing, must see ‘SOLDIERS TALE with CATCH AND RELEASE’ at CPH

What happens when you combine the talents of members of The Cleveland Orchestra, one of the top musical assemblages in the world, with Groundworks Dance, one of Cleveland’s premiere dance companies, with the Cleveland Playhouse, the oldest regional theater in America? You get a compelling, artistic, meaningful, exciting evening of entertainment.

The three arts units are now in a unified production entitled, ‘A SOLDIER’S TALE with CATCH AND RELEASE,’ which is being staged as part of the Play House’s Fusion Fest, a celebration of new works in music, dance, and theatre.

The festival, which is in full production, and will be extended into May with extra performances of ‘BILL W AND DR. BOB,’ the story of the founding of AA in Akron, reached its zenith with the staging of ‘A SOLDIER’S TALE WITH CATCH AND RELEASE.’

The intermissionless production opens with ‘CATCH AND RELEASE,’ a 22-minute composition by Esa-Pekka Salonen, the former Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The music was written specifically as a companion piece for ‘A SOLDIER’S TALE.’ Salonen states that “the intent of the composition was to complement Stravinsky’s piece by using the same instrumentation in new ways. The piece features identical scoring.”

With music superbly performed by a select group of musicians from the Cleveland Orchestra, and conducted by Tito Muñoz, the staging of ‘CATCH AND RELEASE’ was choreographed by GroundWorks’ Artistic Director, David Shimotakahara, and superlatively danced by Amy Miller, Felise Bagley, Kelly Brunk, Damien Highfield and Sarah Perrett.

As the music changes in mood and intensity, the dancers parallel those vibes. Lifts, twists, body engagements, turns, hops, and caresses mirror the classical, jive, contemporary music, varying from seriousness to the ironic. The staging is enhanced by video art by renowned artist Kasumi and lighting design by Dennis Dugan, which covers the floor in an ever changing cacophony of colors and figures, paralleling the music and the movements of the dancers.

‘CATCH AND RELEASE’ is dance and Groundworks at its very best.

‘A SOLDIER’S TALE’ is a morality story of war in an absurdist world. Conceived by Igor Stravinsky, it is ballet, camera opera and theatre which was made to be read, played and danced. Based on a fable by C.F. Ramuz, it was first staged in 1918 and centered on a story of a soldier who trades his fiddle to the devil for a book that predicts the future of the economy.

In 1993, United States novelist Kurt Vonnegut reworked the libretto into a tale about World War II Private, Eddie Slovik, the first soldier in the United States military to be executed for desertion since the Civil War. It is this version that is being staged at CPH.

The Groundworks dancers weave in and out between the actors, often playing parts in the story, enhancing the visual images. The acting cast, under the direction of Seth Gordon, is excellent. The staging, a blend of Gordon and Shimotakahara’s imagination, is intriguing.

Justin Tatum creates a truly sympathetic and real character as Slovik, a soldier who hates war, has seen too much horror, and needs to escape from life as he knows it. His mobile face, appealing voice and ability to blend in with the dancers, all add up to a well performed role. Robert Ellis is properly gruff, yet human as the General. Zac Hoogendyk gives an excellent reading of Dwight Eisenhower’s reasoning for Slovik’s conviction. Lindsay Iuen is fine portraying the Red Cross Girl.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: ‘A SOLDIER’S TALE and CATCH AND RELEASE’ combine to be the highlight performance of CPH’s 2010 Fusion Fest. This is a must see experience!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Inlet Dance 4/10

Inlet Dance wraps up DanceWorks10 performances with emotion draining piece

Inlet Dance is a special performance company. They spend most of their time educating children. That’s a great mission. But, it’s a shame that they only do several public performances a year. Artistic Director Bill Wade’s dancers are well trained, his choreography is focused, and the performances are always filled with innovative concepts.

Their performance as part of Danceworks 10 at Cleveland Public Theatre was up to their usual high standards. The seven segment program was highlighted by the emotional closing piece, ‘BEAUTY IN TENSION,’ which was being premiered. This was Bill Wade at his creative best. It is based on the tension that surrounds us in this era of crisis and the amount of stress which precipitates a search for peace.

The dancers stretched a large square of material to create a vision of tension. Suddenly a body emerged as a cloth-covered gauzed image from the center of the material. During the piece, each of the dancers, in singles or duos, slipped under the gauze and tried to escape. Even when they got out, they were dragged back under. The combined tension of the musical score by Jeremy Allen and the anguished body movements of the dancers resulted in a mesmerizing effect. This is a very special experience.

‘CREATE,’ the opening dance, featured excellent corps unity. It was created with the help of students at the company’s Summer Dance Intensive 2009.

‘TIGHTROPE’ was, like life itself, full of ephemeral moments. A movement poem, it was a creative walking of a chalk line that appeared as a dancer walked an imaginary tightrope which found the line disappearing as the dancer proceeded. It was billed as a dance showing the precarious balance of living a time constrained experience, the balancing act of life.

‘A CLOSE SHAVE’ was originally conceived in 2006. At first, an ironic and humorous offering, it has evolved into a serious picture of the fears of losing everything. It would be interesting to see the two versions danced back-to-back.

In the Spring of 2008, Inlet dancers went to Easter Island to expose the citizens to modern dance and learn the culture and dance of the natives. Upon returning the company started to develop ‘TE PITO O TE HENUA,’ a seven-part program based on their Eastern Island experiences. ‘WIND’ is the newest, the fifth segment. Joshua Brown and Justin Stentz, two premiere Cleveland area male dancers, used ropes to create sounds and movements that carried the audience across the waves.

Mikaela Clark, Mackenzie Clevenger, Elizabeth Pollert and Rebecca Inman, the women of the company, danced ‘BROKE,’ to the lush music of Vivaldi, dressed in beautiful leotards based on modern paintings as designed by Kristin Wade. As with the rest of the program, the choreography was creative and well executed.

Capsule judgement: Bill Wade is one of my favorite choreographers and educators. His ability to motivate and teach his dancers to be a unified and coordinated unit is to be admired. I wished there were more opportunities to see INLET DANCE in action.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Eat It's Not About Food

Must see production for teens, their parents and teachers at FPAC

Teens, their parents and teachers should go to Fairmount Performing Arts Conservatory to understand the potentially horrendous effects of Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating. ‘EAT IT’S NOT ABOUT FOOD’ is a production that should tour the junior and senior high circuit and be force-fed to audiences, both males and females. I say this as a crisis and school counselor who has dealt with those who are the victims of these eating disorders.

‘EAT’ was written by Linda Daugherty, playwright in residence at Dallas Children's Theatre.

As the author states, “‘EAT IT’S NOT ABOUT FOOD’ examines the dangerous and baffling world of eating disorders in girls and boys. Using interwoven vignettes, ranging from realistic to satirical to humorous, EAT candidly explores causes and warning signs, takes a hard look at the influences of society and the media, and tells individual stories of young people struggling with this epidemic and too often tragic problem.”

Published comments about the script state, “EAT inspires as much laughter as it does tears. ... The emotional impact is raw and unapologetic ... awe-inspiring ... It is a difficult hour to spend in the theater. But it is also one of the most revelatory plays I’ve seen. It makes the inevitable pain one will feel well worth it, especially if it means a deeper understanding.”

In an attempt to alert the general public to the problems of eating disorders, the Cleveland Center for Eating Disorders (CCED) is the lead sponsor of the theatrical production. Dr. Mark Warren, CCED’s co-founder and medical director states, "We value the opportunity to support this influential performance that addresses the issues surrounding eating disorders We aim to create an open dialogue and help give a voice to those suffering in silence."

CCED, in conjunction with University Hospitals' (UH) Geauga Medical Center and local physicians, will lead 30-minute open discussions immediately following each performance to interact with the audience on the topics presented.

Director Fred Sternfeld and his large cast of adults and teens do a very credible job of developing the play’s ideas. The staging is creative and meaningful. Especially strong performances are given by Amy Pawlukiewicz, Dylan White, Meghan Grover and Alexis Floyd.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: If you are a teenager, the parent of a teenager, or an educator of teens, ‘EAT IT’S NOT ABUT FOOD’ is required viewing. Shut off the tv, stop the texting, and go---if you are teen, it could save your life or, if you are a parent, it could save the life of your child.

August: Osage County

‘AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY,’ long but well worth the sit

Tracy Letts’ ‘AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY,’ gives new meaning to dysfunctional family. His subjects are one large assemblage of people who desperately need long-term group therapy.

There’s the drunken father and drug abusing mother. There are three sisters who are alienated from each other. One is having a relationship with… (let’s not talk about that because it could ruin your enjoyment of the revealed truth). Another has a husband who is having an affair with one of his students. The youngest sister has had a number of failed relationships, is desperate to get married, and has hooked up with a guy who …(nope, can’t reveal that either). There’s an angry aunt who says whatever comes into her filth-filled mind and has a secret to hide (hmmm). Add a teen-age granddaughter who is not only a habitual pot smoker, but also… (woops, let’s not bring that up). I could go on, but you get the idea….this is one messed up bunch of people whose lives make for great theatre, must see theatre.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the whole menagerie was made up, but, the author admits the play is a “largely fictional story of Letts’ family,” and Violet, the vindictive, substance abusing mother, is based on his maternal grandmother. He states, “My grandmother was a piece of work.” When Letts gave the play to his mother to read he was nervous, but her first response was, “I think you’ve been very kind to my mother.” Kind? Only if kind means Attila the Hun on meth!

The dark comedy (yes, the show is full of laughs) had its Broadway debut on December 4, 2007, moved to another theatre April 29, 2008, and ran for 648 performances. In the process, it deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony for Best Play.

The plot centers on a reunion of the Weston family, living in the state of Oklahoma. The title refers to Osage County, which lies northwest of Tulsa, on the plains. The setting plays a major role in the story.

The three-act production, which runs for about 3 hours, 20 minutes including intermissions, deals with such issues as drug abuse, alcoholism, suicide, death, family dysfunction, sexual harassment, pedophilia, aging, generational change, incest, infidelity, and even love.

The touring production is outstanding. Everything from the fully constructed three-story house, to the well-used lighting, to the character development, are well done. This is professional theatre as its best. The play and production hark back to the era of Williams, Miller and Inge and the well made, well produced play.

Estelle Parsons is Violet. She doesn’t portray Violet, she is Violet, with all her warts and flaws. This is an award winning performance. Also outstanding is Shannon Cochran as the oldest daughter. This is a “have a nervous breakdown every night” part.

The rest of the cast are all excellent, not a weak link in the chain.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: As a line in the play states, “Life is very long.” So is ‘AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY,’ but its worth every minute of the time you spend while watching a well-conceived play get a superb production.

Bill W. and Dr. Bob

The story of Alcoholics Anonymous unfolds at CPH

Two men stand on opposite sides of the Cleveland Play House’s Bolton Theatre stage at the start of ‘BILL W. AND DR. BOB.’ As they speak we learn that they are going to share with us the tale of two alcoholics and how they founded Alcoholics Anonymous.

Alcoholism is an addictive disorder characterized by the compulsive and uncontrolled abuse of alcohol. The alcohol controls the person, rather than the person controlling the substance. It often results in adverse effects upon the drinker's health and can cause life issues. It is medically defined as a treatable disease, but definition and reality are not the same. Alcoholism is a major disease in the US. It is estimated that among persons aged 12 or older, 7.6 percent (18.2 million) meet the criteria for being alcoholics.

In the spring of 1935, New Yorker, Bill Wilson, found himself on a business trip in Akron, Ohio, trying to annihilate his craving for a drink. This was not his first slam against the wall of alcoholism. He had bottomed out in a hospital some months earlier. While he was there he supposedly was awakened by a flash of light and experienced what he described as a “spiritual conversion.” He could have gone in many directions, but as the story goes, through a serendipitously happening, he contacted a surgeon named Bob Smith, also an alcoholic. The rest is history.

‘BILL W. AND DR. BOB’ is the attempt of Stephen Bergman, a doctor and novelist, and his wife, Janet Surrey, a clinical psychologist, to explain how the two men developed what many consider to be the best non-clinical approach to dealing with alcoholism.

The play, though it is emotionally stirring from the standpoint of the good the two men did, is not totally satisfying. I found some of the dialogue stilted and I left the theatre with lots of questions. We hear over and over the plea to join the duo in their process. What, exactly, is the process? We are never directly told. Queries such as, how did the philosophy of the meetings develop? Why are the sessions leaderless? Maybe answers to those questions weren’t the purpose of Berman and Surrey, but it seems a lot of time in the play was used to discuss factors that could have been left out and some more meaty matters dealt with.

The CPH production, under the adept direction of Seth Gordon, is quite good. The angst and the frustrations are evident. The humor--yes, there is humor--comes through.

Timothy Crowe is outstanding as Dr. Bob, He, of tall and gawky stature, has a wonderful way of keying humor and his displays of his character’s frustrations with himself, and the world in which he lived, are compelling. His pitch-perfect New England sound helps shape the person. Though fine, Sean Patrick Reilly is not Crowe’s match. Reilly is void of accent and seems to move in and out of concentration and realism.

In supporting roles, Denise Cormier isn’t always given line motivations in her role as Bill W’s wife, but makes good of what she is given. Margaret Daly plays the understanding wife well, but, again, her lines don’t always give her the ability to develop a complete being.

Charles Kartali does wonderfully with his mutli-roles. He presents a mesmerizing reading of one of the strongest speeches in the play, that of a hospitalized alcoholic who is forced to make a decision as to whether he will turn himself over to the theories of Bill W. and Dr. Bob or continue to flounder in a world of alcoholic haze. Also good in various roles is Heather Anderson Boll.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: ‘BILL W. AND DR. BOB’ is an introduction into the frustrations of alcoholism and how the basic idea of Alcoholics Anonymous was developed. It is an illuminating, if not an entirely satisfying evening of theatre.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Verb Ballet--Fresh Inventions

Verb Ballet presents unique evening of dance

The diminutive 14 year-old stood in the lobby, surrounded by a group of gushing admirers, selling cds of his self-performed piano compositions. The setting? Intermission of ‘VERB BALLETS @ DANCEWORKS: FRESH INVENTIONS.’

Margaret Carlson, the Artistic Director of Verb Ballets envisioned an evening of dance with a creative twist--a night of dance collaboration and experimentation. She assembled seven Northeast Ohio choreographers, seven local composers, and seven dancers (Jennifer Moll Safonovs, Gary Lenington, Katie Gnagy, Brian Murphy, Erin Conway Lewis, Ashley Cohen and Antwon Duncan), assigning a composition to each choreographer, with the idea of stretching the creativity of each. Some of the music was to be played live, some recorded, all productions would receive only one hour of actual rehearsal time to get ready. This means the dancers had to learn all the pieces with short exposure and no ability to adjust to the idiosyncrasies which are always present in live performance.

The results? An evening of dance which was very well received by large and appreciative audiences. When was the last time you went to a dance concert and heard audience members pounding their feet with pleasure on the seating platforms?

Of course, as the four-production series rolled out, each night the nuances of the dancing became more exposed. The entire process would have made for an excellent video docudrama.

‘RANDOM ACTS,’ with choreography by Sara Whale, was danced to “Habanera” by Nicholas Underhill. An often strident composition, it was beautifully performed by violinist Cara Tweed. Controlled and quick movements, often chaotic in nature, created a severe contemporary visual set of images.

‘CLEVELAND FLATS SUITE,’ with music by Richard Rinehart and choreography by Diane Gray, was enhanced with visual effects by Jay Horowitz and lighting designed by Trad Burns (who did a wonderful job of lighting all the shows). A flow of water, images of the bridges and the flats area of Cleveland, which faded to other abstract visual impressions, created a perfect background for a piece which was nicely danced by the company.

‘PIANO RHAPSODY’ was set to “Volcano Rhapsody,” by Alex Berko. The mutli-award winning piano composition was enhanced by the live performance by the junior high student. Kay Eichman used classical modern ballet movements to create a vision that fit the moods of the music. (In full disclosure, the composer is my grandson.)

‘10:39’ was choreographed by Troy McCarty to “Overtures” and “Blood and Oil,” by Alan Emerson. A six-piece orchestra played the fast atonal music and the dancers performed gymnastic and jazz movements to a positive effect.

Following the intermission, Lisa Lock’s choreography brought forth ‘the cat is watching,’ set to “Coil,” an atonal composition of Larry Baker.

‘CHAIR,’ a five-movement composition by Loris Ohannes Chobanian, entitled, “Characters You are Likely to Meet” was staged by Richard Dickinson. Much of the choreography was a series of point and counter point movements which did not always parallel the music. Cellist Regina Mushabac was excellent in her interpretation of the modern composition.

The dance highlight of the evening was ‘KIDS AT PLAY,’ a joyful presentation played to “Cosmo,” a composition by Eric Ziolek. With much of the feeling and energy of Jerome Robbins’ “Fancy Free,” which was the basis for Leonard Bernstein’s musical ‘ON THE TOWN,’ Terence Greene created a fun, fast paced, visually pleasing performance. This number should be considered for inclusion in the Verb repertoire.

Why was Alex hawking albums at intermission and after the performance? So many people on Thursday and Friday asked whether he had an album of his music that the enterprising young man, who has an album entitled ‘ALEX BERKO UNPLUGGED,’ decided to bring some along for the final two performances. The results was a generous addition to his college fund. Alex, asked me to remind my readers that if they attended the program on Thursday or Friday night, and didn’t get a chance to buy a cd, they are still available for $10. (I guess you can contact me and I’ll forward the info to him.)

The evening worked well, but if Verb is to do this type of program again, it would be wise to vary the kinds of music. There was only one tonal piece and after a while the sounds started to grate on the nerves. As a lady behind me moaned, “I love the dancing, but why is so much of the music ear piercing?”

Capsule judgement: Verbs’ gamble paid off! Very sizable houses showed up to see and hear creative productions. Nice job Margaret.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bat Boy

GLTF spreads its wings with the bizarre ‘BATBOY’

When one thinks of the Great Lakes Theatre Festival, the normal vision is for a Shakespearean drama or comedy, or maybe a Noel Coward farce, but, not a musical, and especially not a musical based on sensational headlines from The National Inquirer.

In a search for new and younger audiences, and wanting to go down a path less traveled, the company’s Artistic Director has reached into his hat of tricks and pulled out Keythe Farley, Brain Flemming and Laurence O’Keefe’s outrageous Off-Broadway” ‘BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL,’ which in its Big Apple run was referred to as the “musical of the year.”

What is this outrageous show all about? According to the Weekly World News, the Bat Boy saga began in 1992 when the 19-pound mutant, described by scientists as half human and half bat, was captured in a cave in Virginia's Shenandoah Mountains. Supposedly, the strange creature had enormous amber eyes that enabled him to see in the dark and oversized ears that worked like radar! The feisty creature was taken to a secret federal laboratory, where experts from all over the world came to study him. In 1993 and again in 1994, government officials denied rumors that Bat Boy had escaped from the lab and was on the loose. His present whereabouts is unknown. (Gee, maybe that kid sitting next to you in the theatre is not really a nice little child, but….Bat Boy!)

THE musical tells the tale of finding the Bat Boy and his struggle to assimilate and gain societal acceptance against great odds. It takes on a ‘MY FAIR LADY’ meets sci-fi, as Bat Boy is taught how to behave like a respectable citizen, complete with a proper British accent, and finds out the “real” story of his conception. The moral? Who cares! You go to see ‘BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL’ to be entertained. It’s the National Inquirer, Cleveland-Action 19 News version of theatre.

The Great Lakes Theatre Festival production, under the direction of Victoria Bussert, starts slowly but, in the second act picks up steam. So much of the fun, the outrageous visual images, is undoubtedly the creation of Martin Céspedes. Listed as the choreographer, his imprint is all over the staging, from the gestures, to the body poses, to the visual images, to the movements. He not only gets Shakespearean actors to dance--let’s say, move creatively to music--but he creates physical images that become the mountain folk caricatures that the show needs to be outrageous.

Mitch McCarrell, a Baldwin Wallace musical theatre graduate, is Bat Boy incarnate. He hangs from the rafters, sings with gusto, textures the role with pathos, and captivates the audience. His diminutive physical size enhances his believability. He is one of the few cast members who can actually sing as a musical theatre performer should sing. The others, unfortunately, are actors who have been required, because of the repertory nature of GLTF, to vocalize.

Lynn Allison is fun as the mother with a secret. Lynn Robert Berg is less successful in portraying the tortured doctor/father. An even more outrageous melodramatic interpretation is needed to flesh out the role. Erin Childs makes for a nice “forbidden” love interest for the Bat Boy, though she could have been filled with more disdain and teenage angst in the opening scenes. Aled Davis is a hoot as the Barney Fife-like Sheriff. Eduardo Placer does a wonderful vocal version of “Children, Children.”

Unfortunately, many of the lyrics to the songs are drowned out by the overly enthusiastic on-stage band. Why, oh why hasn’t musical director Matthew Webb learned that the purpose of the band in musical theatre is to back up, not drown out the singers. This is not a rock concert. Calm down the guitar and percussion. If the audience can’t hear the singers, there is no story line understanding.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: You have to go see ‘BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL,’ with the right attitude. You have to will yourself to have fun, realizing that you are participating in a tabloid fantasy. Set aside your traditional beliefs about what GLTF theatre should be. If you do, once you get past the draggy first act, you are in for a fun-filled flight of fantasy.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Stratford Shakespeare Festival of Canada--2010 preview

Stratford Shakespeare Festival of Canada…a celebration of theatre

The economy has started to stabilize. It’s time to start thinking of a place to go that is filled with quality entertainment and good food. One surefire answer is The Stratford Festival of Canada which takes place in Stratford, Ontario, Canada.

Stratford plays are done in four theatres. This season’s productions are:
‘AS YOU LIKE IT’ (Shakespeare), ‘KISS ME KATE’ (music and lyrics by Cole Porter, book by Same and Bella Spewack), ‘THE TEMPEST’ (Shakespeare), ‘DANGEROUS LIAISONS’ (Christopher Hampton), ‘EVITA’ (lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber), ‘PETER PAN’ (J. M. Barrie), ‘THE WINTER’S TALE’ (Shakespeare), ‘JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS’ (Eric Blau and Mort Shuman, based on Jacques Brel’s lyrics and commentary), ‘FOR THE PLEASURE OF SEEING HER AGAIN’ (Michael Tremblay), ‘DO NOT GO GENTLE’ (Leon Pownall), ‘THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA’ (Shakespeare), ‘KING OF THIEVES’ (George Walker, songs and music by John Roby, lyrics by George F. Walker

Besides their regularly scheduled plays, the Festival offers stage side chats, the Celebrated Writers Series, Night Music, Table Talks, pre-show lectures, lobby talks, public lectures, the teaching Shakespeare School and The Teachers’ Conference.

What’s the lodging like? Hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts abound to fit any wallet. I enjoy the B&Bs where you get to meet local people who operate the facilities and fellow travelers from around the world. My favorite has been “The Jennie Forbes Cottage” a charming regency cottage erected in 1857 ( It has recently changed hands and been updated, so I’m not sure what to expect when we arrive this year.

Hungry? For moderate cost and high quality, try The Annex Cafe (38 Albert Street). For a relaxed and fairly inexpensive breakfast treat try Demetre’s Family Eatery (1100 Ontario Street). Cleveland theatrical legends Dorothy and Reuben Silver, who are Stratford regulars, recommend The Waterlot Restaurant and Inn (17 Huron Street behind the Royal Bank) in New Hamburg, which is about 20 minutes away “and well worth the trip.”( Also on their favorites list is The Keystone Alley Cafe (34 Brunswick Street) in Stratford ( which has an outdoor patio.

Packages can be arranged by Stratford Escapes (, is an efficient way to make reservations. For individual tickets call 800-567-1600 or go on-line to

Helpful hints: The ride from Cleveland is about six hours through Buffalo. Go on-line to the festival to get directions. (The routings offered by both the AAA and Yahoo maps are confusing and miles longer.) And, to satisfy board requirements carry some official form of identification (passport, or driver’s license with a picture).

Go to Stratford, Canada! Find out what lovely hosts Canadians are, and see some great theatre!

Friday, April 09, 2010

Shaw Festival 2010 Preview

It’s the time of year to start thinking…..THE SHAW FESTIVAL

The brochure has arrived. The season is set. It’s time to start thinking about spending some time this spring, summer or fall at the SHAW FESTIVAL.

The Shaw Festival is conducted in four theatres in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada, an easy four-hour trip from Cleveland. Once you arrive, you will be entranced by the “most beautiful city in Canada.” Lovely flowers, classical home architecture and inviting well-stocked shops and galleries make for an inviting experience.

The season has actually opened already with lots more to come. It’s possible to see three or four shows a day and pack in an extra special event. As always, The Shaw has a balanced season…comedies, social critiques, musicals and dramas.

This season’s theatre offerings are: ‘AN IDEAL HUSBAND’ (Oscar Wilde), ‘THE WOMEN’ (Clare Boothe Luce), ‘THE DOCTOR’S DILEMMA’ (G. B. Shaw), ‘THE CHERRY ORCHARD’ (Anton Chekhov), ‘JOHN BULL’S OTHER ISLAND’ (G. B. Shaw), ‘AGE OF AROUSAL’ (Linda Griffiths), ‘HARVEY’ (Mary Chase), ‘ONE TOUCH OF VENUS’ (music by Kurt Weill, lyrics by Ogden Nash), ‘HALF AN HOUR’ (J. M. Barrie) and ‘SERIOUS MONEY (Caryl Churchill).

Besides the plays themselves, the Festival includes a play reading series, pre-cast chats, Tuesday Q&A, Saturday conversations, Sunday coffee concerts and backstage tours. Also check out the Shaw Workshops for Adults and the Teen Workshops.

The area itself is filled with activities ranging from a golf course within the city limits; an art park (, The Good Earth Cooking School (, the Jordan Village, a diverse blend of fine shopping, dining, and antique treasures (, an international chamber music festival (, learning vacations at Niagara College (www.niagaralearning, bike paths,
Mystery on the Lake (, and a Niagara river jet boat trip.

The Niagara area is dotted with wineries, many of which, besides offering wine tastings and sales, have fine dining restaurants. My favorite is Hillebrand Estates Winery. Friends love Peller Estates.

There are some wonderful restaurants including my favorite, Queenston Heights Restaurant ( The latter is located in a park just over the US-Canadian border and has a breathtaking view of the Niagara River gorge. (Make a reservation and ask for a window table.) Lunch often finds me at The Epicurian, next to the Court House theatre. A real find is the restaurant at the Niagara Culinary Institute (, at which student chefs hone their skills.

Downtown has a new influx of stores and restaurants. Old favorites include Greaves Jams and Marmalades which is famous for its products since 1927. A Niagara tradition is the Maple Leaf Fudge store.

The area has many excellent hotels and bed-and-breakfasts. Our home away from home is the beautiful and well-placed Wellington House (, directly across the street from The Festival Theatre. For information on other B&Bs go to

For theatre information, a brochure or tickets, call 800-511-7429 or go on-line to Ask about packages that include lodging, meals and tickets. Also be aware that the festival offers day-of-the-show rush tickets and senior matinee prices.

Tired of waiting for a casino to come to Cleveland? Niagara Falls, a half-hour ride from Niagara-on-the-Lake, has several casinos. The falls area has a large outlet store complex for the bargain shopper. If you are taking kids, there is a huge indoor water park which connects to several hotels. And, of course, not to be overlooked are the attractions connected with the magnificent falls.

Helpful hint: To satisfy border requirements carry some official form of identification. A passport, US birth certificate or naturalization certificate) will all do.
Go to the Shaw Festival! Find out what lovely hosts Canadians are, and see some great theatre!

Thursday, April 08, 2010

2010-2011 Keybank Broadway Series


Explaining that, “there is no substitute for the real thing,” Gina Vernaci, the Vice President of Theatricals, sat in the Idea Center in front of a group of sponsors, season ticket holders and reviewers, to announce 2010-2011 KeyBank Broadway Series. She stressed that the goal of the upcoming season is to showcase elements and emotional experiences of live performance.

A video illustrated how close Cleveland had come to losing what is now called The Playhouse Square Center, the second-largest theater complex in the United States. As was illustrated in the video, in 1972 the wrecking balls were lined up ready to knock down the complex, and create a large parking lot.

How did the complex come to be and what saved it so that, at present, 19,000 subscribers form the base that supports the Broadway series and numerous other offerings at PHSquare? A foundation that makes Cleveland a very, very desirable site for the best of touring shows.

Following World War I the Ohio and State theatres opened. The Hanna followed in late March, 1921. The Allen opened that same year and the Palace became a reality in November, 1922. For forty years, good times reigned, but the demise of vaudeville and the rise of television led to the decline of the theaters. Between May, 1968, and July, 1969, all the theaters closed except the Hanna. Plans to raze the Ohio and the State Theatres in 1972 caused a public outcry, and in 1973 the newly-formed Playhouse Square Foundation obtained long-term leases for the Palace, Ohio, and State Theatres, while Cuyahoga County commissioners purchased the Loews Building, which housed the Hanna. And, miracle of miracles, in 1973, the musical revue JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS opened in the State Theatre's lobby. Expected to run three weeks, the show played for two years, giving time to raise the money to restore the theatres and have them added, in 1978, to the National Register of Historical Buildings, thus preserving them forever.

So, what is Gina pulling out of her theatrical hat for the coming year to fill the beautiful complex? A performance without words, a show which stars a dancing teenage boy, stagings of several classics, a reworking of an American classic which now features both English and Spanish spoken words and lyrics, and a popular children’s film which became a Broadway hit musical with real people replacing the cartoon characters.

BLUE MAN GROUP, October 5-17, 2010; Palace
Blue Man Group is best known for their combining comedy, music, and technology to produce a totally unique form of entertainment. The New York Times describes the show as “One of the most delightful performance pieces ever staged.”

BILLY ELLIOT THE MUSICAL, November 19 – December 12, 2010; State
With music by Elton John, this winner of ten 2009 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, is a celebration of one young boy’s journey to make his dreams come true. Based on the smash-hit film, the show is set in a small English mining town. The story follows Billy as he stumbles out of the boxing ring and into a ballet class, discovering a surprising passion that inspires his family and community. I saw this show in London and loved it!

SOUTH PACIFIC, February 1-13, 2011; Palace
With new staging, SOUTH PACIFIC swept the 2008 Tony Awards, winning seven honors. It features a cast of 34 and a full orchestra of 26 members – the largest orchestra of any touring Broadway production. The score includes “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” “This Nearly Was Mine” and “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame.” This reinvention of one of America’s most beloved musicals should make for “Some Enchanted Evening.”

SHREK THE MUSICAL , March 1-13, 2011; Palace
Based on the Oscar-winning DreamWorks film SHREK, the musical is part romance, part twisted fairy tale and all irreverent fun. It’s an evening of entertainment and enchantment for adults as well as kids.

LES MISÉRABLES, April 5-17, 2011; Palace
Cameron Mackintosh presents the 25th anniversary of this classic show with new staging and re-imagined scenery inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo. Les Miz is the longest running musical in London theatre history. This is one of my favorite musicals.

WEST SIDE STORY, May 3-15, 2011; Palace
From the first note to its final breath, WEST SIDE STORY remains as powerful, poignant and timely as ever. The Bernstein and Sondheim score is one of Broadway's finest and features such classics as "Something's Coming," "Tonight," "America ," "I Feel Pretty" and "Somewhere." I saw the show’s Broadway premiere in 1957 and it quickly went on my list of the top five greatest musicals.

NEXT TO NORMAL, June 7-19, 2011; Palace
NEXT TO NORMAL is an emotional powerhouse of a musical with a thrilling contemporary score about a family trying to take care of themselves and each other. Winner of three 2009 Tony Awards, the show is the most talked about new show on Broadway.

Subscriptions to the KeyBank Broadway Series at PlayhouseSquare are now available by calling 216-830-7221 or online at The seven-show KeyBank Broadway Series subscription package ranges from $85 to $520 per seat. Additionally, Donor Circle seating is available. For information visit or call 216-348-5268.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Everyone’s a winner at Beck’s Spelling Bee

How do you spell “f-u-n,” “c-h-a-r-m-i-n-g,” and “a-u-d-i-e-n-c-e p-l-e-a-s-i-n-g?” Easy, ‘THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE,’ now on stage at Beck Center.

The setting: A thirteen-year old standing on stage Saturday night during Beck’s ‘THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE.’ The background: The words already spelled included “syzygy,” “hasenpfeffer,” and “origami.” The plot: What would a competitive sports jock do if he was eliminated on his first spell, like just happened to one of the adult spellers? He stood with anguish on his face. The pronouncer said, “And your word is (dramatic pause) cow.” A smile spread across the boy’s face, but, playing by the rules, he asked, “Can you give me a definition?” Followed up by, “Can you use the word in a sentence.” He paused a second, and with complete confidence stated, “Cow, c-o-w, Cow.” The finale: The audience broke into applause.

The boy? Noah Berko, my grandson, known to many of my readers as one of the “kid reviewers.” He had “volunteered" to be one of the audience participants who came forth to offer their spelling knowledge during the show so he could given an “insiders” view of the production.

The musical is based on ‘C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E,’ an improvisational presentation created by Rebecca Feldman. The script was fleshed into a formatted musical in 2004 with music and lyrics by William Finn and book by Rachel Sheinkin. It opened to critical and audience raves off-Broadway in 2004. It was moved to a Broadway theatre in April of 2005 and ran 1136 performances.
The story concerns six young people in the throes of puberty who learn through pain and pleasure that winning isn’t everything and that losing doesn’t necessarily make you a loser. These kids are their schools’ nerds, the kids whose lives center on doing odd-ball things, such as winning spelling championships, in their own unique and hysterical ways.

Beck’s production, under the creative direction of Scott Spence, is a total winner. I saw the show off-Broadway and then as a touring production, and this staging is the equal of both. Each member of the cast well fits the physical and psychological image needed. They can all sing, are totally involved in their characterizations, and make the evening speed along with humor and pathos.

Highlight songs were the endearing, “I’m Not That Smart,” the hysterical “Magic Foot,” the confessional “Chip’s Lament,” and the charming, “I Love You Song.”

Larry Goodpaster’s musical direction is excellent and Robin Lee Gallo, who was in the original Broadway cast, duplicates the show’s Big Apple choreography with finesse.

Jude McCormick (Chip), he of Eagle Scout badges and erectile problems, Kelly Smith (Logainne Schwartzandgruvenniere), whose two fathers are proud of her being President of her elementary school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, Timothy Allen (Leaf Coneybear) who makes his own outlandish clothes and grasps the entire concept of being ADD and off his meds, Patrick Ciamacco (William Barfee) who spells with his foot, Robin Lee Gallo (Marcy), who insists with rigid body that she isn’t up-tight, and Devon Meddock (Olive) whose mother is searching for her “self” in India, are each f-a-n-t-a-s-t-i-c in their character developments.

Tricia Bestic as the queen mother of the spelling bee, Jonathan Kronenberger as the pronouncer, and Kyle Primous, as the comfort counselor, play their roles to the hilt.

Trad Burns’ set design, Jenniver Sparano’s costumes and Richard Ingraham’s sound enhance the production.

Oh, Noah, finally went out in the third round when he misspelled a word that isn’t even a word. (Is that any way to treat a little kid?) Playing the role to the hilt, he smiled shyly, pouted and took his token award (a box of fruit juice), and left the stage to the cheers of the audience.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The kid reviewers, all three of them, loved the show and were only upset because they each couldn’t appear on stage. Grandpa, and the entire audience, joined the boys during the curtain call as we screamed our approval. This is a must see, fun filled, evening of theatre.